My mother has always called me “the truthteller of the family.” Being known for your honesty seems like a compliment, but the nickname came about just as equally do to my habit of making brutally honest comments as it did from being helpfully forthcoming. Approaching the world with this straightforwardness wasn’t really a conscious choice – it has just always been the way I think, feel, and communicate.
Now, four months into a round-the-world trip and having published forty (40!) blog posts, I have struggled with what to write about, what not to write about, how much to share, and what is off-limits. Going along with this honesty, it should come as no surprise that I am a self-professed “open book” and have a hard time keeping my own secrets. This quality always felt like a negative one, as I’ve seen friends have much less fall-out when their relationships ended, they didn’t get the job after multiple interviews, or a venture failed. However, anytime I try to keep exciting or emotional things to myself, I end up feeling a bit like I’m lying to my friends and family. I’ve learned to accept that this openness is just a part of who I am.
The word that keeps popping into my head when I describe the goal of my writing is “authentic.” I want to write what I would want to read. Seems simple, right? Well, as it turns out, it is pretty difficult. I read and enjoy lots of other blogs but get bored by review type posts, the frequent top ten lists, all the product placement, and unrealistic, overly curated portrayals of life. Obviously, I am completely missing the point – most people enjoy these things. However all these negatives have cleared one thing up for me – I want to write about reality (or my reality – that’s all I know). I want to illustrate what it is really like, what’s really important, what scares me, bugs me, excites me, and all the in-between. Will anyone want to read that? Who knows, but at least I won’t be trying to create something else I have seen… something I wouldn’t even want to read. And to connect all the thoughts and stories whirling through my head – or “synthesize” to use my sister’s word – is extremely fulfilling.
I found within a few weeks of creating this blog that I had the desire to write about things which most people might not want to put out publicly. I wrote one post that I never published because it felt too vulnerable. Then the second really scary post I wrote – Worth Waiting For – I sent to my two best friends and parents. I chose these four because they all have very different limits and points of view. I collected their feedback, removed one paragraph and posted it. I’ve heard people say that they would be uncomfortable sending something directly to their parents first, but my feeling is: if you can’t confront your parents about it – maybe you should not be posting it at all.
So now, given all this background, I am down a path of complete, unflattering honesty with this blog but whenever I want to keep it safe, the word “authenticity” pops back into my head. I am not writing a post about falling in love because I think it would get a lot of views; I’m writing it because it’s a significant part of my trip and my reality. I don’t particularly want to share my fears, but they are inextricably linked with my experience of Southeast Asia. I also don’t believe my way of looking at things is normal, by any means, so I wouldn’t want my posts to be generalized as what any backpacker might be feeling as he or she travels on a solo trip. So in the end, I write what I write because I don’t know any other way. The truthteller quality is what drives me and what challenges me, as I don’t even know what’s “off-limits” to write about. However, I do my best to keep it real and keep it classy.
A couple of weeks ago on an island in the Krabi Province of Thailand, I talked over dinner with my yoga instructor, Farra. We discussed travel, writing, and yoga while a monsoon went on around us. At one point when she inquired about my blog, I told her that the quality I strive for in my writing is authenticity. “I can’t believe you just said that word!” she said and got up to get something. Farra explained that after a trying interaction with a person she had just met, the woman surprised her with a very unexpected gift. It was two printouts of a very beautiful and very long definition of the word “authenticity”.
At the time Farra received it, she was busy and forgot about it. But then a few days later, she felt like she was in an emotional rut and came across the print out again. When she read the page, it was exactly the reminder she needed to pull her back into a positive place at exactly the time she needed it. Farra said, “You know when something happens and it feels like God sent down your own personal angel just for you? This woman – this pain-in-the-ass woman – turned out to be my personal angel.” But after feeling whole again by this gift, she was still wondering – why two copies?
When I said the word “authentic,” Farra knew she was meant to be my personal angel that night. And she was, beyond just giving me the extra printout to carry under my shirt through the monsoon and back to my bungalow later that night. I met her during my week of solitude and she lead me through amazing yoga classes, invited me for dinner when I was in need of a debrief from all my time thinking on my own, and she told me about owning her own yoga studio (a dream of mine for someday far off in the future). She, too, hopes to live an authentic life and it requires lots of risks, uncomfortable moments, and vulnerability mixed in with all the positives.
I’ll leave you with the words from the printout.
“Authenticity is a daily practice. Choosing authenticity means: cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are.
Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving – even when it is hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.
Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.”
-Brené Brown, Ph. D